The official rule on costs for unusual backgrounds is quite an unhelpful ‘Variable’, with a couple of examples of 10- and 50-point costs. I have decided to standardise the basis of the cost of the advantage so that my players can get an idea of how much they need to spend for the background, as well as the abilities that they gain from it.
There are four bands of cost, depending on how exotic (translation: useful in the game) the skills are, and the actual cost depends on how good you want to be at the skills.
The lowest class are Knowledge skills only. A background imparting exotic knowledge costs a quarter of the number of points spent on the skills you want to buy from that background. You can round down as you can’t spend half- or quarter-points anyway.
- Jamie Hetherington-Smythe grew up in India, where Pater was a District Commissioner. He speaks Hindi and Urdu like a native (6 points per language), has Area Knowledge of the Peshawar district (IQ/Easy at IQ, 1 point), and excellent Savoire-Faire (India) (IQ/Easy at IQ+1: 2 points). Total cost: 15 points, plus 25% of that for the Unusual Background: 3¾ points, rounding down to 3 points.
Medium-difficult are backgrounds which give Practical skills. These cost half the cost of the associated skills.
- Henry Hetherington-Smythe ran away from home and joined a Chinese travelling circus. He acquired the skills of fluent Cantonese (6 points), Animal Handling (Big Cat) (IQ/Average at IQ: 2 points), and Acrobatics (DX/Hard at DX+2: 12 points), for a total of 20 points. This background costs (20 / 2 =) 10 points.
More difficult and expensive are those backgrounds which bestow Combat skills. A background allowing the character to learn a combat ability not in common use in the environment from which the character comes costs as much as the player wants to spend on the associated skills (all of them, not just the combat skills).
- Lucy Hetherington-Smythe’s parents were former diplomats in China, and brought home their bodyguard to be a manservant. Bored by the safe life in England, Hun Zhu begins teaching Lucy his language and then Karate. She learns Mandarin passably (Accented level: 4 points) and just about enough to get by in polite company (Savoire-Faire (Chinese Society): IQ/Easy at IQ, 1pt), but really becomes an enthusiast at Karate (DX/Hard at DX+3: 16 points). Total cost: 21 points, plus another 21 points for the Unusual Background.
Finally, the ultimate in unusual backgrounds is that which allows the use of Magical skills in a society where that is not common, or a normally unavailable Advantage. These cost twice the points spent on relevant skills or advantages.
- Giles Hetherington-Smythe found Great-Grandad’s Big Boy’s Booke of Pracktical Fyre-Magick up in the attics of Hetherington Hall, and used it to teach himself magic. He learned enough about magic to access Magery-1 (15 points) which he would otherwise never know he had, and learned Ignite Fire, Create Fire, Shape Fire, Extinguish Fire, Cold, Resist Fire, and Fireball all at IQ level: that’s seven IQ/Hard skills at IQ level, costing 28 points. That background costs Giles a whopping (15 + 28 x 2 =) 86 points.
Note that all of these except the last include languages. In most cases (i.e. any case in which the reason for the skill being exotic is that it is only known in foreign lands) the student must learn the language along with the skill, and sometimes other skills at the same time - almost always including the appropriate Savoir-Faire (what would be good manners in the environment where you learnt it). For example, anyone pursuing an Eastern martial art would often be expected to learn the philosophical basis behind it. IQ-1 is the minimum acceptable level of skill for something associated with an exotic skill.
It is up to the GM which associated skills must also be learned with the skill the player actually wants their character to have. Henry could have joined a European circus to learn either Animal Handling (Big Cats) or Acrobat, but the GM rules that if he wants to be both it should be something exotic. European circus performers tend to be specialists – the acrobats don’t train to stand in for lion-tamers or vice versa. So the GM requires it to be a foreign circus, and the player chooses Chinese and therefore needs to learn a Chinese language.
The cost for the Unusual Background is calculated on all the associated skills at the same rate, not as cheaply as if they had been learned on their own. To go back to Lucy, she could have just learned Mandarin and Savoir-Faire, and having spent 5 points on them she would only need pay quarter of that for the Unusual Background because they are only Knowledge skills. However, because they are part of the same background as her Karate skill they add 5 points to the cost of the background.
This cost only applies to the skill levels at the time of character generation. There is no additional cost to Unusual Background when the associated skills are improved in the course of the campaign.